Court decision gives boost to fight against Missouri’s new anti-union law

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District handed the state’s labor unions a victory on July 28 when it ruled against plaintiffs seeking to block a statewide referendum on the state’s new right-to-work law.

The Appeals Court overturned an earlier Circuit Court ruling that sided with opponents of the referendum. Opponents claimed that the summary of the referendum written by the secretary of state and approved by the state’s attorney general was unclear.

The Appeals Court acknowledged that there were some problems with the summary but that the problems did not affect its clarity.

The state AFL-CIO praised the Appeals Court’s ruling and said that it will continue collecting signatures on petitions to put the referendum on the November 2018 ballot.

The referendum will give Missouri voters the opportunity to veto the newly enacted right-to-work law.

If the AFL-CIO collects at least 100,126 valid signatures on the referendum petition before August 28 when the new law becomes effective, implementation of the new law will be delayed until after the election.

Gov. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in February signed the anti-union, right-to-work law after it was passed by the Republican dominated legislature.

Passage of the new law came after what the Kansas City Star described as “decades-long push by Republicans and business groups.”

The new law is called a right-to-work law, but it has little to do with protecting a person’s right to work. Its only purpose is to weaken unions.

The new law allows workers to enjoy the benefits of union membership–wages and benefits negotiated by a union, union grievance representation, etc.–without paying union dues.

Union dues provide resources that unions need to stand up for worker rights. Paying union dues is also an act of solidarity, and worker solidarity is the source of union power. Without it, the boss dictates the terms and conditions of employment.

Hours after Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed the law into effect, the state AFL-CIO and state NAACP filed for a referendum on the new law with the Missouri secretary of state.

The secretary of state wrote a summary of the proposed referendum and sent it to the attorney general for review.

After the review was complete, the secretary of state in March approved a petition for the referendum. The wording of the petition was based on the secretary of state’s summary.

In April, the AFL-CIO began collecting signatures on the petition.

In order to keep voters from voting on referendum, three plaintiffs represented by the National Right to Work Foundation filed suit charging that the secretary of state’s summary contained grammatical errors that made the purpose of the referendum unclear.

The National Right to Work Foundation is affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee, which is funded by Charles and David Koch, the Walton family, which owns Walmart, and other anti-union business people.

The reason that these business leaders want states to pass right to work laws is that workers in states that have right to work laws earn less money and have fewer benefits than their counterparts in non-right to work states.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, full-time, full-year workers in right-to-work states are paid $1558 a year less than comparable workers in states that do not have right-to-work laws.

Another study by EPI found that the rate of employers that offer health insurance benefits is 2.6 percent lower in right-to-work states than in non right-to-work states.

A Missouri Circuit Court in June heard the plaintiffs’ suit and ruled in their favor.

After the ruling, the AFL-CIO continued to circulate the referendum petition, but there was some question about how the judge’s ruling would affect the validity of the signatures gathered.

That question was rendered moot when the Appeals Court ruled against the plaintiffs and allowed the wording of the summary to stand.

Meanwhile, the union’s petition drive is entering its home stretch. The petitions must be submitted before August 28 when the new law goes into effect.

The AFL-CIO has scheduled petition mobilizations for the weekends that remain before the deadline.

After the Appeals Court announced it ruling, Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he was confident that the petition drive will succeed and that people will have a chance to vote on the new law in 2018.

Teamsters to UPS: “Get out of ALEC”

Hundreds of Teamsters demonstrated outside the national meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in San Diego to demand that UPS withdraw its support of ALEC.

The Teamsters called ALEC’s agenda “anti worker” and “anti union” and criticized UPS for donating $25,000 to sponsor ALEC’s national meeting.

“Global corporations like Coca Cola, Apple, McDonald’s and even Walmart have decided that continuing their relationship with this toxic organization is too dangerous to its brand,” said Ken Hall, president of the Teamster division that deals with UPS.  “It begs the question of why UPS, the largest unionized company in America, continues to associate with ALEC. It’s time for UPS to do the right thing for its workers and cut ties with ALEC.”

In the past, the Teamsters have identified ALEC as a key player in what the union calls the War on Workers.

ALEC serves as a conduit between corporate America and state legislators for right wing ideas that can be transformed into state law.

It holds regular gatherings where corporate lobbyists and state lawmakers mix and mingle.

It also writes model legislation that lawmakers can take back to their legislatures and try to get them passed into laws.

Many of these bills are aimed at lowering workers’ wages and benefits and weakening their unions. In addition, ALEC model legislation includes those that eliminate environmental and consumer protections, weaken public education, suppress voting, and raise taxes on the working class while lowering taxes for the wealthy and big corporations.

The recent spate of right to work (for less) bills that have popped up in state legislatures have ALEC fingerprints all over them.

So called right to work bills have little to do with protecting the right to work as the name implies; instead, their main aim is to lower wages.

They do so by making it more difficult for workers to form and maintain unions. Without a collective voice on the job that a union provides, it’s difficult for workers to win fair pay increases and protect their benefits.

Where right to work laws exists, unions are weaker and wages lower.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Wages in (right to work) states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-right to work states,” which means that a typical full-time, full-year worker in a right to work state makes $1,558 a year less than her counterpart in a non-right to work state.

The legislature in Wisconsin recently passed a right to work bill that was taken almost verbatim from ALEC’s right to work model legislation.

ALEC’s right to work model legislation also served as a pattern for right to work legislation introduced in Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Right to work legislation isn’t the only way that ALEC model legislation seeks to lower worker pay.

According to Robert Reich, “the rise of independent contractors is the most significant legal trend in the American workforce–contributing directly to low pay, irregular hours, and job insecurity.”

Unions like the Teamsters have been fighting the misclassification of workers as independent contractors.

ALEC, however, has been on the other side of this fight. It has a model bill that it calls the Independent Contractor Definition Act, which would make it easier for employers to misclassify their workers as independent contractors.

Prior to the San Diego demonstration, the Teamsters international office sent a letter to locals urging them to distribute a union flyer about the relationship between UPS and ALEC.

The flyer concludes by saying, “It’s time to ask UPS why it is still in bed with an organization that writes, distributes, and lobbies for laws that are solely designed to hurt working families.”

At the rally in San Diego, Teamsters held signs that read, “ALEC Bad for UPS, Worse for You” and “California Is a No ALEC Zone.”

Randy Cammack, president of Teamster Joint Council 42 in Southern California, told those at the rally to make sure that UPS’ representative at the ALEC meeting heard what the Teamsters had to say.

The demonstrators replied by chanting, “UPS, get out of ALEC! UPS, get out of ALEC! UPS, get out of ALEC!”

Michigan poised to become 24th right to work for less state

Thousands of workers wearing red will gather Tuesday in Lansing, Michigan’s state capital, to try to head off an attempt by Republican governor Rick Snyder and a lame duck legislature to make Michigan a right to work for less state.

On December 6, Gov. Snyder, state senate majority leader Randy Richardville, and house speaker Jase Bolger, all Republicans, announced that they intended to make Michigan the 24th right to work for less state in the US. Within hours of the announcement, the state senate and house had passed appropriations bills that included so called right to work legislation.

There were no committee hearings and no chance for the public to provide formal testimony about the consequences of enacting such legislation.

The bills that came out of the house and senate still need to be reconciled, and a vote on a reconciled version of the two bills will to take place on Tuesday. Gov. Snyder said that he will sign the final version of the bill.

Labor unions and Working Michigan, a progressive coalition of community, religious, and labor groups, hope that a massive turnout of union members and supporters on Tuesday will convince the legislature and Gov. Snyder to reconsider their decision.

Under the federal Taft Hartley law, state’s have the authority to enact legislation that has commonly come to be known as a right to work law. So-called right to work laws allow employees who enjoy the benefits of union contracts and services provided by dues paying members such as grievance representation to refuse to pay union dues.

The purpose of these laws is to make it more difficult for union workers to bargain collectively and enforce contracts that have been negotiated.

According to Working Michigan, workers in so-called right to work states earn about $1,500 less a year than comparable workers in states that do not have such laws.

The right to work for less vote was the second big setback this year for Michigan workers. Unions in Michigan tried to pass an amendment to the state constitution making collective bargaining a right guaranteed by the constitution. A referendum on the amendment held on Election Day was badly defeated.

Sensing a weakness after the referendum defeat, Republican’s moved swiftly to make Michigan a right to work state before the next session of the legislature convenes.

The Michigan Legislature that passed the two bills is composed of members who will not be returning when the next session of the legislature convenes in January. Some lost re-election bids; some are retiring.

As a result, Republicans will have a narrower majority, and it will be more difficult to pass laws that make it harder for workers to bargain collectively, which has been especially high on the Republican agenda since 2010.

Union leaders thought that Republicans might try to pass some kind of anti-worker legislation during the lame duck session and tried to mobilize members in advance. But the swiftness of the lawmakers’ actions on Thursday, seems to have caught the union leaders off guard.

Over the weekend, opponents of the proposed legislation regrouped and called for Tuesday’s mobilization.

Should the proposed legislation become law, it will be very difficult for unions to repeal it. Lawmakers included right to work language in appropriation acts, which are not subject to a referendum vote.

Making repeal even more problematic is the fact that a recent poll found that 54 percent of Michigan voters support right to work legislation.

The United Auto Workers called the legislation  a “devastating blow to the middle class in Michigan” designed “to flatten wages and crush workers rights.”

Working Michigan said that

In the wake of this legislation, the only ‘freedom’ gained for Michigan workers will be the freedom to make less, the freedom to be disrespected at work, the freedom to struggle to pay their bills, and the freedom to be left out of the American dream. This bill is a blatant attempt by the richest in Michigan to silence the voices of working families in our democracy, build their own power, and make the growing gap between the rich and everyone else even bigger.

The proposed law will not affect contracts that are already in place; however, as contracts in the public and private sector expire and new contracts are negotiated, they will reflect the change.